On the eve of the start of training camp, the Red Wings' Henrik Zetterberg talks about the challenges of playing through a long season. Ted Kulfan, Detroit News
Traverse City – It’s not necessarily the length of his contract that will determine how long captain Henrik Zetterberg plays for the Detroit Red Wings.
It’ll be how well he feels.
Zetterberg told reporters Thursday morning at Centre Ice Arena, on the eve of training camp, that August’s story out of Sweden saying he might only play two more seasons was “not the full story.”
Zetterberg, who’ll turn 37 the first Monday of the regular season, plans on play until the end of his contract, when he’ll be 41. He has four years left on his 12-year, $73 million contract.
But, a lot will depend on Zetterberg’s health.
“I want to play hockey as long as I can,” Zetterberg said Thursday. “The thing that’ll decide if I’m not going to play is my body. If I’m not healthy enough to play, I won’t play. But it’s (his health, primarily his back), been getting better the last couple of years and hopefully it’ll continue that way.
“But I’m getting older, too, and there’s more and more of a grind to go through every season.”
While Zetterberg’s salary cap hit is $6.083 million per season, Zetterberg’s actual salary has ranged from $7 to $7.75 million per season. He’ll be paid $7 million this season, then drop to $3.35 million next season and only $1 million of actual salary the final two years of the contract.
But Zetterberg has defied age, leading the Red Wings with 68 points and 51 assists, to go along with 17 goals, while playing all 82 games last season – including his 1,000th game the final day of the season. That was also the last the game at Joe Louis Arena.
He actually hasn’t missed a game the last two seasons and has only missed five games the last three seasons, since undergoing back surgery after the 2014 Olympics.
“It really hit me after my back surgery,” said Zetterberg, of the importance of monitoring his workouts and taking time off if necessary. “Last season we had a good setup of taking a few more practices off – we looked at the schedule and where we could get a little breather and rest the body, especially with the schedule we have, and the travel.
“It’s key to find those days to kind of recoup.”
Many long-term NHL contracts, such as Zetterberg’s, are designed the way they are to minimize the salary cap hit, yet still make sure the player gets the majority of his money front-loaded.
The NHL has instituted roadblocks discouraging these long-term deals, slapping a salary cap recapture penalty against a team whose player retires before the end of his contract.
If Zetterberg were to retire two seasons before the end of his contract, the Red Wings would be hit with a recapture penalty of roughly $5.5 million per year the final two seasons.
But, again, Zetterberg said Thursday he intends to play as long as he can.
“As everyone knows, I have four more years (on the contract) and I hope I can play four more years,” Zetterberg said. “That’s my goal. But I also know I’ve gone through a few things with my body and my back. The last few years have been good (health-wise), but you never know, so you take it year to year.
“But I’m happy with the way I’ve played, especially last year, and hopefully I can do it this year.
“But that I’m only going to play two more years, I don’t think that’s the correct answer. Hopefully I can play four more years.”
Just being in Traverse City, with a bit of a chill in the air, and the rink waiting for another training camp was inspiring for Zetterberg.
“You come back and see all the guys, and I’ve been here for many years, but it’s just the same feeling you get, you’re excited,” Zetterberg said. “You go to dinners with the guys, spend a lot of time off the ice, and it’s a good time to bond.”
But driving to the rink Thursday morning, Zetterberg and long-time teammate Niklas Kronwall, also 36, were struck by their advancing years.
“We think about it every day, how old we are,” Zetterberg said, smiling. “How long it’s been since our first camp, what we went through then, and kind of think what these prospects are thinking.”